Having killer stage presence can make all the difference when you’re trying to win over a crowd. Here are 25 stage presence tips that’ll change your shows forever:
1. Don’t Let Self-Doubt Hold You Back
When it comes to stage presence, I fully believe that one of the biggest things holding musicians back is their own mindset. It’s easy to start thinking the following:
- “What if I look stupid?”
- “What if the crowd doesn’t play along?”
- “This isn’t a big enough show for good stage presence”
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the audience are paying to see a show. As a result, they’ll expect your performance to be visually engaging. If you try to play it safe by looking uninterested or timid on stage, that’s exactly the impression you’ll portray to your audience. Even if an attempt at crowd participation falls flat, the audience will at least respect you for putting on a show. Here are a couple of actionable pointers on overcoming a counter-productive mindset:
- Put the interests of the audience before your personal interests: If you’re dealing with nerves and/or self-doubt, it’s tempting to forego your stage presence in order to avoid embarrassment or failure. However, this is unfair on those who are watching you perform. Remember that if someone has paid money and/or given up their time to watch you play, they deserve the best show you can possibly give them.
- Realize it doesn’t matter if things go wrong: Even the most accomplished bands in the world have a bad show from time to time. It’s important that you don’t let a bad show knock your confidence. Instead, reflect on why it didn’t go as well as anticipated and make the necessary changes for next time. In addition, most people simply won’t care if you make mistakes or embarrass yourself; it’s much better to fall short by giving it everything you’ve got rather than not giving anything at all.
- Don’t compare yourself to other bands on the bill: If there are other bands with less-than-stellar stage presence on the bill, don’t feel you have to try and ‘blend in’. Instead, see it as an opportunity to stand out. In addition, remember that stage presence can take time and experience to develop. As a result, don’t be intimidated by a band’s stage presence when they have a lot more experience under their belt. Instead, see what you can take away from their set to apply to your own project.
2. Manage Your Nerves
Gig nerves are a very real thing. In some cases, they can be so severe that they start to fuel your self-doubt and impact your stage presence. Here are some actionable pointers on managing nerves:
- Channel them into the performance: Nerves are essentially triggered by an adrenaline rush. Instead of letting nervous energy get the better of you, try to channel it into your performance.
- Don’t resist them: Attempting to suppress nerves will only emphasize and prolong them. Instead, I’d recommend simply allowing the nerves to reign free for as long as they need to. Whenever I’ve done this, I’ve found I feel awful for about 30 seconds before instantly feeling much better.
- Skip the alcohol: Whilst you might think a couple of drinks will calm your nerves, it’ll slow your reaction times and increase your chances of making mistakes. In addition, it’s all-too-easy to overdo the alcohol when you’re battling nerves, which can result in you becoming a drunken and anxious mess on stage. Instead, I’d recommend using techniques such as deep breathing or positive reinforcement. If the nerves are particularly bad, I’d recommend trying a herbal supplement such as Bach’s Rescue Remedy, which can be picked up cheap on Amazon.
3. Mingle With The Crowd Before The Show
This is one of my all-time favorite stage presence tips. Before playing your set, try and mingle with as many people in the crowd as possible. If you’ve already engaged with members of the crowd before your set, you’ll be much more likely to do it during the show. In addition, the audience will often be much-more responsive if they’ve already had a chance to warm up to you.
4. Don’t Get Caught Off-Guard
Nothing screams ‘unprofessional’ louder than a musician getting caught off-guard by a mistake or a technical issue. Understand that it’s almost impossible to make it through an entire performance without any mistakes or technical issues. As a result, it makes absolutely no sense to get caught off-guard when they inevitably happen. Here are a couple of actionable pointers on avoiding getting caught off-guard:
- Be well-prepared: It goes without saying that you should be well-rehearsed in advance of the show. However, you should also be prepared for things going wrong. Make sure you have backup gear set up and ready to go in case you break a string or break a stick during your set.
- Prioritize group sensitivity: Group sensitivity essentially comes from having good chemistry with your fellow bandmates. If you have good chemistry with your bandmates, you’ll be much-more-likely to quickly recover from a bad mistake. The best way to hone your group sensitivity is simply to rehearse on a regular basis over a sustained period of time.
- Remember that the audience probably won’t notice any mistakes: Keep in mind the audience hasn’t spent several weeks rehearsing the set in advance of the show. Whilst they probably won’t notice that you missed a single snare hit, they will notice the fact that it caught you off-guard and train-wrecked the rest of the song.
5. Showcase Your Personality
One of the biggest things Indie Panda preaches is the fact that people buy people, not products. As a result, a crowd is much-more-likely to connect with a band’s music if the members are personable and interesting individuals. Make sure to showcase your personality with on-stage banter between band members or some crowd interaction between songs.
6. Have Good Posture
It’s unbelievable how quickly people will judge you by your posture. Poor posture can indicate fear and self-doubt, whilst good posture can indicate confidence and assertiveness. Here are a couple of tips on improving your posture on-stage:
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart: This is commonly referred to as a ‘power stance’. This provides balance to your posture and communicates confidence.
- Place your weight on the balls of your feet: When you place your weight on the heels of your feet, your natural tendency will be to slouch. Keeping your weight on the balls of your feet will encourage you to stand tall.
- Keep your chest out: When you stand, pull your shoulders back and then let them relax naturally. Another tip is to imagine you’re being pulled upwards by a string that’s attached to the center of your chest.
7. Stop ‘Shoegazing’
It’s going to be difficult for the crowd to connect with you if you’re constantly staring at your instrument. Instead, I’d recommend doing one (or both) of the following techniques:
- Focus on a fixed point at the back of the room: This tip is borrowed from theater productions, but I’ve found it translates immensely well in a gig setting.
- Make eye contact with audience members: This is a phenomenal way to form a direct connection with members of the audience. Making eye contact with different members of the audience can really draw the crowd in and make them feel part of the show.
8. Eliminate Silence Between Songs
Many bands structure their set in the following manner:
- 3 minutes of music
- 1 minute of awkward silence
This is an incredibly common, tedious and uninteresting method of playing. In addition, silence communicates unprofessionalism and can cause an audience to quickly lose interest. Instead, try incorporating the following into your set:
- Interludes: Interludes are a fantastic way of transitioning between songs. Interludes can either be made up of an extended intro/outro or specifically written to segway from one song to the next.
- Back-to-back songs: One of my favorite ways of starting a set is to have two fast songs played back-to-back (in other words, with no break in between them). When choosing songs to play back-to-back, it’s important to make sure the keys line up. I’d recommend making sure the second song is either in the tonic or dominant key of the first one.
- On-stage banter: Old, but gold. On-stage banter is a fantastic way of showcasing your personality whilst keeping the crowd engaged. On-stage banter can take place between the band members themselves or with members of the audience.
- Stories: Telling a story about a particular song will give the audience a reason to connect with it. In addition, stories about a particular band member or the journey to the show can work well.
- References to the location: Explaining your connection with the venue or city you’re playing in is a great way of getting the audience to warm up to you.
- Band introductions: Introducing members one-by-one can be a great addition to a set. Furthermore, make sure you say your band name several times throughout the set. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen a great band play, then not been able to find them on social media due to not knowing their name.
- References to other bands on the lineup: If you enjoyed another band’s set, say so during your own performance! This is also a great way of strengthening your relationships with the other bands.
- CTA (Call To Action): Whilst you certainly shouldn’t overdo these, it’s worth plugging both your merch and your online presence at least once during your set.
When writing out your setlist, make sure you include your transitions as well as what to say in between certain songs, such as in the picture below:
9. Include Choreographed Sections
As cheesy as they seem, choreographed sections can add a brilliant sense of energy and professionalism to a show. Here are a couple of ideas for choreographed sections:
- Jumping on the spot: Again, it sounds cheesy, but having all members jump on the spot at certain points of the set can look fantastic.
- Swapping positions: A great trick is to have the guitarists swap places on-stage for a particular section.
- Headbanging: This can be especially effective if you play heavier music.
10. Own The Stage
If you’ve got a little extra leg room on-stage, use it! Moving around the stage makes the performance much more interesting to watch and adds a real sense of energy.
If you’re planning on moving around on-stage, it’s worth making sure you’ve got the right equipment to-hand. I’d recommend investing in an instrument cable that’s at least 25 feet long. In addition, make sure you loop the cable through your strap so you don’t pull it out of the jack by stepping on it. If you’ve got a little extra budget, I’d recommend investing in a wireless guitar system such as this one on Amazon. Wireless guitar systems are generally much safer than instrumental cables as they eliminate trip hazard.
11. Use Facial Expressions
I spent years playing live without even thinking about my facial expression. However, this quickly changed when I watched some video footage back that showed me looking bored and uninterested. In addition, many musicians tend to unknowingly make embarrassing facial expressions whilst playing (commonly known as ‘guitar face’).
Try to match your facial expression to what you’re playing. If you’re playing angry-sounding music, it helps to have an angry facial expression. If you’re playing a big solo, make sure you look passionate and immersed in what you’re doing.
12. Look The Part
Indie Panda breaks identity down into two key aspects:
- Sonic identity (the identity portrayed through your music)
- Visual identity (the identity portrayed through the cultural and personable aspects of your project)
Something that all-too-many bands and artists don’t realize is that fans connect to visual identity just as much as sonic identity. As a result, it’s vital to have a clear and coherent image on-stage. In addition, having a distinct image can really help to boost your confidence whilst performing. Here are a couple of pointers on looking the part:
- Make sure there’s a consistent image amongst all members: I can’t even begin to count the number of bands I’ve seen that look as if someone’s dragged four random people off the street and plonked them on-stage. Whilst it might seem small, a coherent image can be a real make-or-break factor when it comes to professionalism.
- Make sure your image effectively represents your identity: In other words, war paint and bullet belts might not translate well for pop rock band. Make sure your image effectively represents your sound as well as the personable aspects of your project.
13. Interact With Your Bandmates
This is a great way to showcase your group sensitivity on-stage. Here are a couple of ideas for interacting with your bandmates on-stage:
- Make eye contact and smile at a fellow bandmate
- Walk over to a bandmate and face each other whilst playing
- Look in admiration when a bandmate plays a solo
- Incorporate on-stage banter in between songs
- Point at a member once they enter the limelight
14. Involve The Crowd
As previously mentioned, the crowd wants to feel as if they’re part of the show. Here are a couple of ideas for involving the crowd:
- Get them to sing the lyrics back to you
- Address the entire crowd with open questions (such as ‘how are we doing?’)
- Interact with individual members of the audience
- Get the crowd to clap or jump
- Walk into the crowd during certain sections of your set
Even if you’re playing in front of a tiny audience, I’d still recommend involving the crowd. People are much-more-likely to remember your set if they actively participated in it.
15. Speak Assertively
If you’re going to be addressing the crowd, it’s important to do it in an assertive manner. As previously mentioned, the crowd will be much-more-likely to buy into your stage presence if you’re exuding confidence. Here are a couple of actionable tips on speaking assertively:
- Follow a loose script: Whilst this has already been touched on within this article, it’s well-worth mentioning again. If you aren’t following a loose script, it’s all-too-easy to get caught like a deer in headlights between songs. However, you’ll come off as much more confident if you know roughly what to say in advance. When crafting a script, it’s key to ensure that what you’re saying isn’t overly scripted. I’d recommend simply listing a couple of key phrases such as ‘band introductions’ or ‘merch’ on your setlist.
- Keep it simple: If you try to get overly-wordy or convoluted, you run the risk of tripping over your words or confusing the crowd.
- Speak clearly: Mumbling is a definite no-go when addressing a crowd.
16. Use Hand Gestures
Hand gestures are a great way to involve the crowd and keep the show visually engaging. Here are a couple of ideas for hand gestures:
- Performing the ‘come here’ gesture to the crowd
- Rubbing your hands together
- Punching the air
- Putting your hands on top of your head
- Pointing at bandmates or members of the crowd
17. Use Props
Props can be a fantastic addition to a live show. Here are a couple of ideas for props:
- ‘Band Mascot’: This is often a cuddly toy or an action figure which you can sit atop the bass drum. This can be passed around members at certain points of the set or referenced between songs. Mascots can often become a staple part of a band’s live show.
- Props related to the lyrics: Joey Ramone from The Ramones famously held a baseball bat on stage when singing the lyric ‘beat on the brat with a baseball bat’.
- Water guns/nerf guns: These can work fantastically-well if you’re playing an outdoor show. However, it’s worth giving the crowd fair warning to put their electronic devices away before getting soaked.
18. Use A Strong Dynamic Range
Whilst not directly related to the visual element of your show, a strong dynamic range can add a significant amount to your overall stage presence. The trick is to ensure your quiet parts are really quiet and your loud parts are really loud. It’s worth keeping in mind that you can’t have truly loud sections if you don’t contrast them with quiet sections.
BONUS TIP: Adding ritardando (a gradual decrease in speed) can also help emphasize your quieter sections.
19. If You Aren’t Singing, Mime The Words!
This is a great little trick that looks very convincing. If you aren’t singing, look out at the crowd and mime the words at key points of the song (such as the chorus). Whilst this can look awesome, it’s important not to overdo it. There’s a fine line between looking like you’re feeling the music and looking like a total idiot.
20. Point Your Headstock
This tip goes hand-in-hand with the above one. Pointing the headstock of your guitar towards the crowd at key points of the song can look great. Additionally, it often looks cool if you rest one foot on a monitor speaker as you do this.
21. Share The Limelight Evenly
This is a huge one. If at all possible, I’d recommend sharing the limelight evenly between members. When the limelight is evenly shared and distributed between members, it effectively keeps the audience on their toes.
The best way to obtain the limelight is simply to step forward a few steps when it’s your time to shine. In addition, it helps if the rest of the band look at whichever member has the limelight. Once you’ve got the limelight, it’s important not to hog it from the rest of the band. By all means step forward during your guitar solo, but consider giving it back to the singer when he or she comes back in for the bridge.
22. Stay In Shape
This is one that many bands don’t consider, yet it can offer a considerable advantage. If you’re playing a high-energy set for an extended period of time, it’s important to stay in reasonably good shape so you don’t lose steam halfway through the set. As soon as I began doing cardio five times a week at the gym, I noticed that it had a significant impact on my stamina whilst performing.
Whilst keeping fit can improve your stamina, it can also help to improve your look. Whilst it might be a bitter pill to swallow, looks can often be a standout factor when operating in a mainstream market. For more information on the impact of looks, check out our article ‘Do Looks Matter In The Music Industry?‘
23. Incorporate Stage Presence Into Your Rehearsals
In short, you can’t expect your stage presence to appear effortless if you haven’t rehearsed it beforehand. Make sure you’re incorporating the following into your rehearsals:
- Choreographed sections
- Loose stage banter
- Sharing the limelight
- Hand gestures
The best way to fully-evaluate your stage presence before a show is to video your rehearsals. Videoing your rehearsals allows you to view your band from an audience perspective and make any necessary changes. I’d thoroughly recommend investing in a dedicated video camera to record rehearsals in order to keep everything in one place. The best value camera I’ve found is the WEILIANTE Digital Camcorder on Amazon.
24. Reflect & Review On A Regular Basis
With everything that you do in your music career, it’s important to reflect and review on what went well (and why) and what could be done differently (and why). When reflecting on your stage presence, I’d recommend holding a band meeting where you watch back footage of a recent show and have an open discussion about it. When reflecting on your stage presence, don’t be afraid to point out strengths or provide constructive criticism to other members. In addition, try not to take any constructive criticism you receive personally. Instead, simply see it as an opportunity to best-leverage your talents in the interests of the band.
25. Enjoy Yourself!
Playing live music is a truly exhilarating experience. Don’t be afraid to let loose and have a good time when you’re on stage. If the audience sees you having a good time, they’ll almost-certainly feed off of your energy.